Environmental impact assessment of the 2011 Tohoku-oki tsunami on the Sendai Plain

Catherine Chagué-Goff, Przemyslaw Niedzielski, Henri K.Y. Wong, Witold Szczuciński, Daisuke Sugawara, James Goff

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65 Citations (Scopus)


Large areas of farmland in the Sendai Plain, Japan, were inundated by the 11 March 2011 Tohoku-oki tsunami and covered by a discontinuous 30-0.2cm thick sediment layer consisting of sand and/or mud and generally thinning and fining inland. Two months after the tsunami, numerous rice paddy fields and depressions remained ponded with brackish or saline water. A series of field surveys in May, August and October 2011 were carried out north of Sendai airport, in order to assess the environmental impact of the tsunami. While evaporation had resulted in elevated conductivity in ponded water in May (up to 68.2mScm-1), rainfall over the next five months led to dilution, although brackish water was still recorded in depressions and on paddy fields. Tsunami sediments, underlying soil and soil beyond the tsunami inundation limit were collected at 43 sites along and near a transect extending over 5km inland, and analysed for grain size, organic content, water leachable ions, acid leachable metals and exchangeable metalloids. Water leachable anion and cation concentrations were elevated in sandy and muddy tsunami deposits and soils particularly in areas, where seawater had stagnated for a longer period of time after the tsunami, with up to 10.5% Cl, 6.6% Na, 2.8% SO4, 440mgkg-1 Br measured in surface sediments (<0.5cm depth). Vertical variations were also recorded, with higher concentrations often measured in the surface samples. A similar trend could be observed for some of the metalloids (As) and metals (Zn, Cu and Ni), although in general, maximum concentrations of metals and metalloids were not much higher than in soils not inundated by the tsunami and were within background levels for uncontaminated Japanese soils.The impact of saltwater inundation was documented in the chemistry of soils underlying tsunami sediments, which were affected by salt contamination down to ~. 15. cm depth, and soils not covered by tsunami deposits. The latter implies that the extent of tsunami inundation may successfully be determined using geochemical markers in absence of any sedimentological evidence. Water leachable ions mostly decreased over time, however, they remained high enough to impact on rice farming, which was completely halted in 2011. Although further work is required to assess the longer term impact of tsunami inundation, flushing of salt with freshwater, as well as the possible removal of sandy/muddy sediments and underlying soil are recommended to allow crop production to resume.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-187
Number of pages13
JournalSedimentary Geology
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Dec 30


  • Environmental impact
  • Japan
  • Saltwater contamination
  • Surface waters
  • Tsunami deposits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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